Deuces Wild

Dear Miss Snark,

The issue of co-authors and whose name appears first is barely covered on the internet. As a librarian, I understand the CIP data and consequences but the issue my co-author and I are having is a bit more emotional and I hope you can cut it down to the bone for us.

We agree that the book is 50% co-authored. We both want our names first. The author who would alphabetically appear first ("Author A") acknowledges that the other author ("Author B") was ultimately the one that was able to get it solicited by major houses, one of which bought it. Subsequently, Author B also used her contacts (and moxie), Miss Snark's advice and well-chosen words to acquire the agent. Author B thinks this tips balance in her favor to be listed first on cover. Author A does not agree that the order should be decided in any way other than alphabetically. She feels professionals in industry would view anything else as a statement of her having less to do with the content.

Question 1: What's your opinion? (Book art starts in a month. )
Question 2: If we can't otherwise talk this out, should we resolve this by coin toss?

My instinct is that we should not throw this into agents lap (Author A is considering this as option) because it's too unprofessional/hints at a less than perfect working relationship. Thankfully, we agree not to let editor resolve.

Thank you for your time.

Respectfully Author B,
who in her next life will marry Mr. A. (Forget Mr. Right!).

1. A is right
2. You don't need to talk it over. Follow my directions.

Alphabetical is the default setting for how to list two authors names. Given there is no compelling reason to not do this, suck it up.

Compelling reasons are: one author is extremely well known and the other is not; and/or one author has a name that is difficult to say or spell correctly or is easily spelled wrong (this is a HUGE deal now that bookstores are all computerized).

No one assumes that the author listed second is the lesser beast.

Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen are in alpha order and the book cover designer stacked the names so it looks "right".

The authors of Rule of Four are also in alpha order; again the book designer makes it look good.

Same with Raymond Feist and Janny Wurts

You can ruin your working relationship with your co-author and look petty all at the same time by insisting that your contribution is more valuable. This is how wars start. Don't do it.


kaolin fire said...

And so the "Pen Name" war began...

In Greatest Uncommon Denominator Magazine Issue 0, we had two pieces each done by multiple contributors. The contributors knew which order things should go in--I think one was alphabetical as an even split, and the other reversed alphabetical for reason of the bigger name.

It's funny the issues that come up in collaboration--seems it's always best to clear these things up _before_ the project starts! Or if nothing else, determine how they'll be arbitrated down the road, in a clear and concise manner.

Steve said...

Isn't there also a danger of confusing the "value" one author brings to the deal with the "value" of the two authors' contributions to the book?

Julie Leto said...

The one thing Author A and Author B missed is that they should have had a partnership agreement drawn up long ago where these types of matters are settled before anyone sent out a single query. They need a legal, binding agreement. While Author B implies she feels no ill-will because of her hard work in securing both an agent and a publisher, I guarantee there is a seed of discontent already planted in her brain. I used to work with a partner. It started off 50-50. Didn't end that way, which is why I now write alone. (We're still great friends, thankfully, but things might not have turned out that way.)

Follow Miss Snark's advice...but then get thee to a lawyer and work out all the details for future situations. Like, what if something happens on the next partnered book and Author A doesn't do 50% of the work? What then? Does she still get her name listed first? Will Author B still be okay with that?

Many landmines in partnerships, that's for sure.

December Quinn said...

My CP/WP and I never even discussed this. Alphabetically, she comes first, and neither of us see being listed first or second as any kind of big deal at all. My name will be on the book cover; who cares where? This isn't a movie poster where people are billed according to their stardom or the size of their role.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

But... Preston and Child are the other way around. Despite Child's current output, was Preston the more well-known of the two when they teamed up?

Anonymous said...

Two otherwise intelligent adults arguing over something this small is more than enough to sink the book.

A & B --suck it up, go by the rules. Nothing turns people off faster than two writers fighting over who's on first like a couple of preening divas.

In future do NOT make any reference to this conflict about top billing, even as an amusing anecdote. It may seem to be vital to you now but outsiders are only going to see a couple of silly fusspots, and no one wants to get next to that or buy their words.

So long as they spell the names right, forget it and be working on the next book.

I collaborated with another writer and had no problem that he had the "bigger" name or that I did most of the work. We kept that off the public radar; it wasn't important. Our books were a mutually beneficial business deal and our fans loved the fact that two such very different people got on so well together.

We didn't talk about who wrote what bits. However, it became a running joke that if a reader didn't like something we'd say the other writer did that part. This worked best when the other writer was present to offer a comic reaction. "What? I wrote that? Oh, yes, I did, I hoped it would annoy someone! Good call!"

Jane Lebak said...

I've co-authored two magazine pieces with a friend of mine. We put my name first on the first piece because it was mostly my piece. We inverted the name order on the second piece because that was fair.

I understand it's different when there's cover art involved, but in my opinion, this was a who-cares issue. In fact, she put my name first on the first draft of the second piece, and I reversed it.

Sometimes the friendship is more important than the name order. I'm not sure why this would be the hill you'd want to die on.

Caitlin said...

What they said - though you could always take the name 'Aaron Aardvark' as a nom de plume. (Joke!).

Aaron Aardvark said...

Why is that a joke?

Lynnzer Tart said...

Thanks for your comments! I'm not gonna argue that name first has some beneficial implications, tho it does, because I'm already seeing that my name first will ultimately cascade into negativity that will outweigh any real or perceived benefit. Yes, I felt that all was equal in terms of product and that my doing the work to get product/ms sold was good enough reason for me, Author B, to be first. This blog and comments cut through the haze. Fuck the order of the name. We need to focus on the partnership working well through all the rest of the stages.I just wrote Author A and told her case closed--alphabet rules.
~Author B

Ballpoint Wren said...

Alphabetical is the default setting for how to list two authors names.

Bummer! That means if I want my name first on a book cover, I've got to look for co-authors with last names starting with X, Y or Z.

Anonymous said...

Your byline has importance only as a marketing device, like a brand. You need to use one, or several, to help people find and identify your work effectively. That is the only thing it will ever be used for. No need to get all fraught and emotional.

Andrew W said...

The author who would alphabetically appear first ("Author A") acknowledges that the other author ("Author B") was ultimately the one that was able to get it solicited by major houses, one of which bought it. Subsequently, Author B also used her contacts (and moxie) etc.

And this is ultimately a moot point, because the use of contacts and moxie doesn't end with the signing. Author A or Author B could end up doing less or more to sell the book once it's in print.

acd said...

Well done, Author B! And congratulations to both of you.

SherryD said...

What would people think if they spotted a book co-written by Sherry Decker and Stephen King? I'll bet that if the sales clerk put that book into a sack, handed it to the customer and customer took it to his car, you could ask that customer, "Who wrote that book?" The customer would say, "Stephen King and somebody." Alphabetically listed doesn't sway importance one way or the other. What'dya bet? By the way, congratulations.

Katie said...

"Aaron Aardvark said...
Why is that a joke?"


sisterclamp said...

Hi there Author B:

Yes, congratulations. But I would not call it gracious. You tell Author A that the alphabetical rule applies. Yet still achieve superiority (a 'win') by saying Case Closed, thus terminating any further discussion with your so-called equal partner.

I am particularly sensitive to power-plays and this was a very nice one. May I suggest losing it for the future?


Ryan Field said...

I'd probably have to change my name to Abromowitz or some such if it were a first time novel and the standard happened to be alphabetical order.

Termagant 2 said...

Tell ya what: let Author A take top billing on this one, and then agree upfront (in writing) that Author B gets the top on the next one.


Aries said...

Maybe it's just that I'm a petty person but I sort of feel Author B has a legitimate gripe. As an aspiring writer, I know that writing the manuscript is only half the journey to being published. Approaching the publishers and literary agents is just as daunting and takes just as much work if not more. If having her name first means that much to Author B, then Author A should defer in acknowledgment of all the legwork Author B did. I know this flies in the face of consensus opinion but like I said, I'm a petty person who can identify with Author A's need to be first. :)

Another writer said...

Author B has acted graciously, solving the immediate problem. But as others have pointed out, people should not create intellectual property together (any more than they should buy real estate together) without a written contract that details their agreements concerning everything from credit to division of labor to provisions for the unexpected and the unpleasant. I write books with experts and have a book collaboration FAQ on my website, with links to collaboration agreement resources: http://www.sarahwernick.com/bookcollaborations/faq.html

Sarah Wernick

Lynnzer Tart said...


Thanks for what you say. Opinion here has gone the other way and actually I've felt after the comments that I never had a legitimate basis for expecting Author A to agree to let me have my name first. Not Miss Snark nor any of these comments seem to hold the opinion that approaching publishers, agents, panelists, writing follow-up etc was critical enough to warrant a circumstance where the alphabet default could be reconsidered. I appreciate you recognizing this.

I wish you had not suggested that this could be a result of "pettiness" since I don't feel I am a petty person but the acknowledgement of my doing the legwork to get this FIRST novel (for both) published was something I expected would sway Author A to "grant my wish."
That said, giving in was NOT a powerplay as Sisterclamp suggests, it was a survival play. Karma helped me sell it to a major publisher without representation ( a veritable miracle) and I want to positive energy to envelop the novel during its revision/publication process. Plus, I do care about our relationship and ultimately now see that this was a case of her self-esteem v. my ego gratification.
Lastly, whose name is first is not a superficial concern for those who seem to assume this. It has everything to do with the way the book is catalogued in Library of Congress and how it will be searchable on many levels.
Author B

Anonymous said...

Speaking as a librarian, whatever you do don't switch names on your second book "just to be fair." This actually is no fair because books are cataloged and (if fiction) filed by the last name of the first author. Switching names will remove the possiblity of people finding your 'next' book because they won't be together in the catalog or on the shelf.

As an author, I wrote a few books with two other writers. Although my name came in the middle alphabetically, the other two suggested that my name come first. We solved the whole discussion by combining our names into a pen name for the series of books we did together, keeping our own names for our separate publications.

-librarian, writer, grandmother

Kit Whitfield said...

While a book obviously never makes it into the stores without getting published, I'd suggest you think about it from the readers' perspective.

If a reader picks up a book in a shop and sees two author names, billed in non-alphabetical order, he will assume that the first name has contributed most to the book. Now, if you're counting both writing it and getting published as part of the same effort, then you have a case, B. But I really, really doubt that a reader will see it that way.

The reader, after all, will not get to partake of the effort it took to get published. That all happened behind the scenes, and the cold fact is that he's probably not that interested in it. All he partakes of is the actual writing, and there, A and B are equals.

The cover will say 'by authors X and Y', meaning written by, not written and sold by. After all, agents sell books to publishers and no one puts them on the cover.

While I salute your accomplishment in finding an agent, I think it would be misleading to give B top billing. Any reader, based on the evidence of the book in his hands, will assume A was the lesser writer, which would be unfair.

You might also want to remember that the main reason anyone publishes a book is that the content is good. A good presentation of a bad book gets nowhere. It's always the writing that sells it in the end, and A did his full share there.

What I'd suggest is that you bill yourselves in alphabetical order, and each write an individual acknowledgements section. In A's section, he should fulsomely and generously praise B's smarts, energy and skill in getting the book accepted. That recognises both the equal effort that went into writing and the different efforts that went into getting published, but keeps them in their appropriate places.

'steene said...

I have never in my life stopped to check the alphetical order of co-authors. I usually assume the first author is most famous, regardless of the amount of work they actually did (and if one author is a lot more famous, it's probably safe to say that they just wrote an outline and made newbie author do the hard work of writing.)

Since you are both new, you have an opportunity to choose where you want to be on the bookshelf. Choose the name that puts you closest to an author that writes books similar to yours. Then people browsing for that author might see your awesome cover and pick it up. Even better, if this is a long-term partnership, choose a pen name for both of you that puts your book exactly where you want it, and as a bonus, it's less confusing for readers.